In exploring reasons why some buyers have declined to join the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, we’ve uncovered several concerns. First we heard from those expressing a concern about the promotion of the initiative to the consumer press. Then we analyzed the thought that had been expressed that the buyer effort was not what was needed because we needed a law or mandatory regulation. Most recently we heard from those thinking that all these buyer-led efforts are sullied by the pursuit of self-interest.
Today we are going to hear from a buyer who thinks that the effort focuses excessively on spinach:
I find it interesting that the focus centers around spinach. And I ask myself, who stands the most to lose if consumers shy away from fresh spinach? While it is a fairly recognizable item at retail, it really isn’t that big an item in the big picture. So who gets “hammered”? As I look into this, it’s food service distributors!
Fresh spinach is a significant piece of their business. It also hammered the clubs as “spring mix” was a big item with restaurants. So I wonder if the motivation is much less about the sanctity of fresh produce as it is about restoring lost revenue to a part of the supply chain?
An executive on the buy-side thinks that the buyer-led initiative hasn’t addressed the consequences of their actions:
A big problem that I have with the buyer’s letter is that it doesn’t address the industry as a whole, but carves out a fairly small item for focus. But let’s assume that some standard is set that these buyers find acceptable. So now the buyers will all be scrambling to get this product from a much narrower supply source. So what happens then? Prices go up, availability goes down.
The Pundit thinks the focus on spinach and leafy greens is understandable. Sure some of the people fighting for tougher food safety standards on spinach will benefit if it stays a vibrant product in the industry, but that is neither bad nor surprising. Who else would care enough to do something except those with interests in the field?
It is also true that if we have another food safety scare on spinach, the black eye on the industry reputation will be far worse than if we have one on some other item. This crisis, with its de facto ban on fresh-spinach consumption got unparalleled publicity. Perhaps the industry will ultimately be forgiven and spinach sales will get back to pre-crisis level and resume their upward swing.
However, my grandfather used to say to me that in business and life, he found this adage useful: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Put another way, the public and regulators are going to legitimately feel that having been put on such public notice, the industry better be able to fix the spinach problem.
Also, in fairness, the buyer’s letter just says start with spinach:
Finally, while we recognize that lettuce and leafy greens are the most immediate priority due to the most recent E. coli outbreak, we expect that the associations share our urgency to have standardized food safety requirements and commensurate auditing criteria for additional crops in accordance with their actual and/or perceived risk, including: melons, tomatoes, and green onions. We expect that the process described above will be initiated for one or more additional crops by February 15, 2007.
The reference to the consequences of the buyer’s effort is telling and sort of another issue on all this. We talk about higher standards as if all growers are capable of meeting them. It is not true.
Some don’t have the capital, the food safety expertise, the staff to deal with these issues, etc. Others will meet them, but it will take time. HACCP experts have to be hired, plans made, staff trained, etc.
There is an iron tradeoff: to the extent the new standards are meaningful, supply will be constrained and prices will rise.
This may moderate over time as more growers become proficient. But higher price levels may be permanently necessary to pay for the enhanced focus on food safety.
To the degree higher prices get passed on to consumers, demand will be suppressed.
It is unknown if those who don’t buy spinach because of high prices will buy healthy alternatives. They may buy candy bars and die of complications of obesity. It is a completely open question as to whether safer spinach won’t cost lives in the end.
Despite all the news about fresh produce, most food safety issues involve other perishable items. And the association to help people in the prepared, refrigerated food field is the Refrigerated Foods Association. We’ve written previously to urge appropriate folks to check out their conference.
Now we are told about a special deal that new manufacturing members can take advantage of:
In an effort to drive membership, we are offering a special promotion for new manufacturing members. We are giving one free registration to the RFA Conference to any company that joins as a new manufacturing member before January 17th. That is a savings of $795 on the conference registration!
This applies only to companies that would join under our Manufacturer category (meaning they manufacture prepared, refrigerated foods). It does not include suppliers/associates (companies that produce packaging, equipment, ingredients, etc.)
Well that is a great deal, and the RFA Conference is an outstanding event — well worth attending at full price. You can catch the details about the conference right here.
If you fit the criteria, time to get off the fence and sign up. Every day you don’t is a decision to not have access to as much information as your competitors.
We’ve been receiving thousands of letters and phone calls inquiring what readers can buy the Pundit for the upcoming holidays (actually that is a lie… nobody has called at all.)
And we are sure that as you shop this weekend, you are worried about what the Pundit might need. (Actually that is a lie as well… we are pretty sure you try not to think about us at all on the weekend.)
But seriously folks, if you are looking for gifts for business associates, for office Christmas raffles and just for that special someone, here is a great list of electronic toys for big boys — and girls too!
Here at the Pundit, we’ve done a series of Retail Pulses in which we spoke with leading retailers to see how they were dealing with different facets of the spinach situation. You can review them here, here, here and here.
One of the things that has come across in the course of discussion on the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative is that most shippers think the foodservice industry is light years ahead of retail on food safety.
This is typically because large foodservice operators deal with a limited number of products and typically deal with a contracted supply chain. As a result, setting and enforcing standards is significantly easier than for retailers juggling the full range of products and, often, sourcing from many different suppliers somewhat unpredictably.
But what is true of McDonalds is not true of the local diner. So to say foodservice is ahead of retail is not as simple as it seems.
We thought we would conduct a Foodservice Operator Pulse to get a sense of how the foodservice operator deals with these issues.
One distinction between retail and foodservice is that foodservice operators rarely have dedicated produce personnel. The person responsible for produce is typically responsible for buying lots of other things. Although we will be talking to many operators in the weeks to come, we thought we would start out with two smaller operators who know the produce industry well by virtue of their service on the PMA Board of Directors.
As such Pundit Investigator and Special Projects Editor, Mira Slott, spoke with Janet Erickson of Del Taco and Daniel Crimmins, with the foodservice operations at the University of Notre Dame:
Vice President of Purchasing and Quality Assurance for Del Taco, Lake Forest, California, and PMA Executive Committee Chairman.
Q: What insight have you gleaned from your multi-level vantage points regarding the dynamic dialogue on food safety initiatives enveloping the produce industry?
A: From my perspective on the buyer side, it’s all good, confirming the fact that everyone in the supply chain recognizes food safety is an important issue that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. The genesis of these different proposals — the one instigated and coordinated by Tim York, The National Restaurant Association’s task force led by Donna Garren, and Western Growers’ proposed regulatory measures all came about at the same time, because everyone has the same idea.
Q: What about concerns of overlap, confusion and divergence?
A: Maybe everyone didn’t call each other from the start. But since then, I’ve seen quite a lot of discussion going on between the groups. I’ve known Tim for years, and we’ve had conversations about what PMA is doing to reinforce food safety throughout the entire produce supply chain. While the specifics may vary, all groups are trying to accomplish the same end goal. I don’t view these different proposals as competitive or conflicting, and I am confident there will be a solution to satisfy all parties. Donna Garren with NRA’s task force is not looking for anything materially different from what all other groups are looking for. We are all making sure the end results address the problems with food safety programs and that consumer confidence in leafy greens and produce in general is restored.
Q: How does this goal relate to food safety programs at Del Taco? What do you require of your produce suppliers, and will you be making any immediate changes following the recent outbreaks?
A: We’re not as large a company as many of our competitors. We don’t do our own specific testing at the supplier level. The way we approach our supplier food safety is different than some of the larger companies. Our quality assurance director does go to the facility to do his own “audit”. He’ll spend a few hours there, mainly asking a lot of questions. In some ways most important, he asks who else you do business with, if the list of customers includes those that conduct stringent audits. We ask to see the most recent audit from a major lab and look at those results. If the supplier demonstrates being audited by others we respect, that is good enough for us.
It’s not that we don’t do our own analysis. We’ll look at operations ourselves and point out what may need attention. However, we don’t say you need to do a fifth audit if the company already is being audited four times.
We don’t have the resources to monitor in depth. Our suppliers are already doing business with many companies much larger in size that conduct extensive food safety measures. Best examples are Jack in the Box, McDonald’s, and Darden, all doing thorough jobs on food safety and quality assurance. That doesn’t mean we’re going to accept everything at face value. We always visit our suppliers and look at their operations with our own eyes, but also factor in their relationships with other customers.
Q: You describe a form of respect for some of your key competitors in their methods of handling food safety that is notable. Is there somewhat of a symbiotic relationship with restaurant chains in instances like this?
A: My quality assurance director participates in industry events with other restaurant chain executives and will call them to get feedback on important issues. In the restaurant business, we cooperate at the food safety/quality level, even though we compete at the cash registers. We recognize that a safety or quality problem at one company is a problem for all of us.
Q: So these kinds of relationships were going on long before the spinach crisis took hold?
A: The spinach outbreak was the straw that broke the camel’s back surrounding the whole food safety problem with produce. It happened too frequently and the FDA took dramatic measures. Everyone realizes that clearly it can’t be business as usual. Something has to change and there is a new sense of urgency. A lot people are coming at the problem from different angles.
Q: So where do we go from here?
A: We have an opportunity to make substantial change because everyone is so focused on food safety. All the associations are involved. Let’s use this energy and attention to get something done. Already there has been a lot of progress. Yes, it’s human nature to debate and ask questions, and invariably there will be some people who won’t always agree. I’m looking at these different proposals as an opportunity to improve the situation.
Q: Realistically, will there ever be an even playing field that includes stringent food safety regulations without government regulations and enforcement?
A: I don’t hear anyone disagreeing that we need to move quickly. The government regulations may come in time, but the industry has to participate in the changes.
Buyers have a key responsibility to get the best price, and I’ve heard many more comments about it on the retail side than in foodservice. Pressure to get good pricing is not going to go away. How each retail chain and individual buyer addresses that pricing pressure will be an important issue in our future. I can’t speak about the retail side, but in foodservice we tend to establish relationships and not buy out of those. In my experience, not just at Del Taco, but through my career, we tend to select a supplier and rely on that supplier for an extended period of time. When supplies get tight, what they do at that point is a different story. Produce is affected by Mother Nature, just one more reason why we need to come up with industry solutions.
I’m happy to say that I’m going into a meeting now to learn more about new items Del Taco will be integrating into its line, and while I don’t feel ready to unveil them yet, I can assure you they will include produce.
Many thanks to Janet for sharing a truly revelatory discussion with us:
First, she assures us that the various food safety efforts are coordinating. Phones are ringing. People are talking. Good stuff going on to serve the interests of the trade.
Second, she teaches us the very important role that large players can serve in the business: They legitimize suppliers. If Jack in the Box, Darden and McDonald’s all buy from a company, it means that the supplier has been vetted. Many large buyers signed the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative letter, but a more useful role might be to just do it. Right now you can tell very little about the food safety practices of a company just because they sell to a big retailer. If the top five retailers in the country would adopt a “Darden-like” attitude toward their suppliers, they would serve to not only enhance the product in their stores but establish a production base in the industry that other buyers of goodwill could tap into. Perhaps corporate giants don’t like the “free ride” little folks get. But that is a small price to pay considering how a weak link can bring the whole industry down.
Third, Janet is wise beyond her years in reminding us that in foodservice, as in retail, the best laid systems break down under certain circumstances. Part of a buyer’s food safety plan has to be what they will do when it does. In other words, if the vetted and contracted supplier has a problem, what is the plan: live without the product, buy it from an unknown on the free market or, perhaps, there always has to be a secondary supplier who can step in? To not plan for the unexpected is to not plan at all.
Q: How have the food safety problems in the produce industry impacted your business?
A: There have been food outbreaks in the past, but the spinach E. coli outbreak was different. One thing that hit home with me this time was the number of people approaching me in my personal life and at work asking me if it was safe to buy or eat produce anymore. It scared people in the number of illnesses and the three deaths that happened. Even though the dangers of getting on an airplane are far greater, it put people in fear mode.
In terms of our customers, we pulled spinach right away. There wasn’t too much of a stink from the student perspective. And we put spinach back when the FDA said it was ok to do so.
Q: How has being a PMA board member affected your perspective?
A: In terms of produce safety itself, being on the board, I know how many people are working on food safety from so many angles. Buyers are trying to fix things. I have Tim York’s buyer-led proposal on my desk. NRA is doing its own plan. PMA, Western Growers, United and other groups are getting together, but it is not easy to get everyone to agree and speak in one voice. PMA has been taking aggressive action, and Bryan Silberman has been working night and day on this. The problem is there’s not an easy solution, and no matter what, it will never be fixed completely. There is no way to be 100 percent sure produce is safe.
Q: What food safety measures do you have in place for your University of Notre Dame operation?
A: We do as much as we can to do internally. We use a produce wash. It does two things. Supposedly it kills germs, although I’m aware of arguments that it acts just like water. Studies go both ways. In any case, using the produce wash heightens the attention for employees to wash all produce well. If we said to employees, “Just rinse produce under water,” they would not view it as a big deal, and might not do it thoroughly. We insist it goes through the produce wash, but we’ve always done this procedure. The action wasn’t added because of the outbreak.
Q: Washing produce, while important, is only one step in the food safety process. What other actions do you take?
A: The scary thing with the spinach E. coli and tomato salmonella outbreaks is that washing might not make a difference anyway. You can’t necessarily wash it off if it’s already imbedded in the product. This problem requires better field management practices.
Q: Do you require any particular food safety standards or audits of your produce suppliers?
A: I’m not a produce buyer. I buy everything, and there’s no way I can do food safety audits. To really audit, you need a produce buyer that manages food safety issues. Some of the larger distributors or larger chains have produce buyers and quality control teams. But you won’t have that kind of structure in my size market.
It makes it a challenge in terms of handling the certification process or third party audits. This is a question we’re asking ourselves. What can we insist of our suppliers in terms of food safety?
Q: What happens with the added layer of bringing in your produce through a distributor?
A: Our distributor chooses the supplier. Stanz Foodservice, a local independent in South Bend, is the one distributor we use for produce. And we buy multiple products from them.
On occasion we do bring in some produce from Gordon Food Service in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Gordon is part of Markon, so they would have more stringent food safety requirements for their suppliers, but a local distributor like Stanz Foodservice wouldn’t have the same types of food safety resources as a Markon.
Q: Isn’t that an argument for standardized food safety measures?
A: The industry has to have standards. I think its great Tim (York) is trying to get stronger food safety requirements implemented across the industry, but it is challenging from all perspectives.
For many people in the food service industry, it’s tough enough to understand the auditing process with so many categories we manage. Whether using a distributor or not, it would require heavy reliance on a third party.
We’re trying to figure out how to better manage food safety and to improve buying skills in this area. Our company is looking to do more sustainable buying, which requires a more scrutinizing approach to buying produce.
Dan has the incredibly appealing character trait of never trying to puff himself up. So he tells us straight that as a harried buyer of so many products on a local level (Notre Dame buys about $12 million in food of which about one million is produce each year), he doesn’t have the staff, the expertise or the money to be setting standards and auditing people. In this, he is much like almost everyone, except for the very largest buyers. In the end his produce will be as safe as what his distributor buys.
But he also teaches us that a lot of thought has gone into what they do. The idea of washing produce with a wash not much more effective than water seems silly, until the human psychology element is thought of. How do you make an employee think something is important? Give them something beyond their normal experience. It is very shrewd.
One lesson is that we need to work with local wholesalers and distributors to strengthen the abilities of this sector to monitor the safety of its suppliers. Otherwise weak producers will gravitate to this channel and their pricing will tend to drive food safety standards down to a lowest common denominator.
The Pundit extends special thanks to both Janet Erickson of Del Taco and Dan Crimmins of the University of Notre Dame. The willingness of these leaders to share with the industry on food safety issues will help us all get where we need to be that much faster.
Tenessee State University did a presentation entitled: Using Consumer and laboratory Research for the Development of a Printed and On-line Brochure Promoting Consumption of Safer Fruits and Vegetables
Basically it is a presentation about how they researched what are good practices for consumers and then created a brochure, both in print and online, to promote both consumption and safe handling of produce.
Part of the research focused on the efficacy of washes and the conclusions were as follows:
- Wiping apples and tomatoes with paper towels showed little bacterial reduction.
- Generally, water, vinegar, lemon juice and vegetable wash solutions reduced bacteria population approximately the same amounts
- It is cost effective for consumers to use cold running tap water instead of other washing solutions to reduce microbial contamination on fresh produce.
See the whole presentation here.
We are fortunate here at the Pundit to have been able to tap into the expertise of Bob Sanderson, President of Jonathan’s Sprouts, headquartered in Rochester. Massachusetts, many times over the past few months.
It is notable that in the testimony of Robert E. Brackett, FDA’s Director for the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, before the United States Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Dr. Brackett saw many of the FDA’s food safety efforts as growing out of its experience with sprouts:
After raw sprouts were associated with several outbreaks, FDA issued two guidance documents in 1999 for the sprout industry. The guidance documents contain steps that the sprout industry could use to reduce microbial hazards common to sprout production to ensure that sprouts are not a cause of foodborne illness. Implementation of the guidance has reduced the incidence of outbreaks of illness attributed to the consumption of sprouts.
Since then, FDA has collaborated with industry, in cooperation with state agencies and academia, to develop commodity-specific supply chain guidance for the commodities most often associated with foodborne illness outbreaks.
It has been repeated many times that the spinach outbreak was unique because it was the first time ever that the FDA advised consumers not to eat a whole category of product as opposed to limiting its advice to a particular brand or farm. Though repeated many times, this actually is not the case. When the FDA came out with its guidance documents for sprouts, its statement told some history:
In August 1998, following outbreaks of Salmonella and E. coli O157 infections attributed to sprouts, FDA issued a health advisory warning high risk groups not to eat raw alfalfa sprouts. The advisory was reissued last July to include all raw sprouts and all consumers because of the continued increase in the incidence of illness attributed to sprouts.
So if we, as an industry, were paying attention, we could have been more aware that this was a tool in the FDA arsenal. And we would have known that what the FDA did to alfalfa sprout growers in 1998 and 1999, it could do to anyone.
The FDA guidance documents, both of which are still in force, are, first, Guidance For Industry: Reducing Microbial Food Safety Hazards For Sprouted Seeds, and the second one is Guidance for Industry: Sampling and Microbial Testing of Spent Irrigation Water During Sprout Production.
Bob Sanderson lived through all this, and so is more attuned to the nuances of food safety issues than many in the produce industry.
He wrote us a note in response to an article we ran back on September 28, 2006, entitled Call for Stronger FDA. The piece was a response to an initiative to increase FDA funding, so it could regulate more effectively. The Pundit was a bit skeptical:
If you accept the notion that it is the FDA’s responsibility to make sure that all our food is safe, then the budget they have is ridiculously and disproportionately small for the task at hand.
After all, the FDA regulates roughly 25% of all consumer spending in the US.
If anything, the spinach outbreak indicates that the FDA creates a false “comfort zone” that allows operators to compete with each other on price because the FDA has already established the legal requirements to create safe food.
If every meeting with a potential co-packer began with a discussion of how do we make this safe, big buyers would quickly insist on tougher standards than the FDA has required. As it is, big buyers are happy to let the FDA determine the standards and then look for the low-cost producer.
Big branded producers would invest in higher food safety standards but hold off because the FDA standards are the legal requirement and thus make investment in stricter standards seem superfluous. In a sense, the existence of FDA standards devalues branding… The core of the problem is not low FDA funding. The core of the problem is this: If, prior to this outbreak, Natural Selection Foods had sent a memo to all the people it co-packed for and said that to increase food safety, it was going to take a variety of steps such as testing water, testing product, etc., and that the cost of these measures meant that every bag would cost an extra quarter, do you think that its business would have increased (because clients would seek it out in pursuit of better safety) or decreased (because other vendors who met all FDA requirements could sell for a quarter less)? No question in my mind that the answer is the latter. That is the real problem.
This was written long before the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, and points to a problem both with the initiative and the critiques of it. When our letter-writers tell us — as they did here — that it is the government’s job, they forget that in this arena where incremental improvements are always possible, the government standards are always just a baseline. As we said: If anything the spinach outbreak indicates that the FDA creates a false “comfort zone” that allows operators to compete with each other on price because the FDA has already established the legal requirements to create safe food.
The initiative itself is really up in the air because so far it is not really a buyer-led food safety initiative; it is really a plea to produce trade associations to take the initiative.
Even if the associations do so and even if the government gets involved, you still will have only a baseline program. In the end, buyer concern about safety, reflected in the buyer’s willingness to commit to a dedicated and verified supply chain that implements agreed food safety protocols, is the only way for buyers to truly take the initiative and enhance food safety.
Bob Sanderson at Jonathan’s Sprouts read this controversy and sent a note:
Indeed we will. Bob gave the introductory talk at the annual convention of the International Sprout Growers Association on July 7, 2006, and you can read his complete presentation here.
The speech was given long before the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative and the spinach crisis. The key issue is food safety:
“…I think that the safety challenges with sprouts may not be as great a problem as finding a way to pay the costs associated with doing what needs to be done to adequately address these issues. In other words, I think a solution may exist, but it doesn’t fit within the present price structure of sprouts…
… green sprouts were being produced by a lot of different growers in our area, and we were competing with each other, and often differences of a few pennies in our prices would determine whether we could win a new customer account or keep an existing account…
… It is hard to take an existing product, which looks a certain way and tastes a certain way, and to significantly raise the price in a very competitive market where others are also growing the same kinds of sprouts that also look and taste basically the same. Of course, we had been telling our customers about the good features of our sprouts, their good quality, our responsive customer service, our attractive labels, our years of experience, and so forth, all along, but basically the customer, particularly the supermarket buyer, knew what a sprout was, and what it should cost….
… unless, somehow, you can convince your buyers that you’re selling them a significantly different product, even though it looks and tastes the same as it always did. But I don’t think we want a market where everyone is competing with claims of superior food safety and trying to convince the customer that safety aspects of their products, that can’t be visually detected, are crucially important and therefore worth spending more on.
However, if you don’t convince the customer of the justification for his paying for intangible safety procedures, how can you afford to do them?…
… In the US, regulators have issued recommendations for the way sprouts should be produced. These recommendations are way overdue for a careful review, but even if improvements are developed, if these improvements carry a price, and there is no consistent enforcement, then the recommendations or regulations or whatever they are will be an invitation to cut corners, because that will be the only way to stay in business. I believe that this is the situation presently in the US, and it is hurting our industry…”
Bob’s presentation contains much more, and we thank Bob for sending it along and urge everyone to read it. As a producer, you see the almost plaintive nature of the dilemma someone like Bob is under.
We don’t want people to promote food safety as a competitive edge, but if you can’t tell consumers that this bag of spinach is worth paying more for, well, why would they pay more for it? And if consumers won’t pay more for it, why would retailers?
This is the dilemma at the very heart of our industry issues regarding food safety.
There is an ad-hoc group that started it all, the National Restaurant Association has its group working on a program and the Food Marketing Institute has a conference planned. All these buyer-led initiatives can get confusing, so to assist the trade in keeping track of them all, we are publishing this recap of coverage all in one place.
As new developments, occur we will continue to update this recap to help keep the trade organized on this important subject.
On September 25, 2006, in the midst of the spinach crisis, we published The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that it is the “representations and warranties” that buyers demand that define the food safety programs we get:
“…in the end, the strength of our food safety systems is at least as dependent on what retailers demand as they are on what the government does for the simple reason that what retailers pay for is what they are going to get.”
Then in the issue of the Pundit’s sister publication, PRODUCE BUSINESS, which was unveiled at the PMA Convention in San Diego on October 21, 2006, we published Food Safety Is A Retail Issue, which pointed out:
“…what holds suppliers back is not that they need an FDA regulation — it is that they need to see a willingness on the part of buyers to pay more to obtain a higher level of food safety and security. So far that is missing.”
The Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety was then announced. In time it came to be signed on to by nine important buying organizations:
Ron Anderson, Safeway, Inc.
David Corsi, Wegman’s Food Markets
Gary Gionnette, Supervalu Inc.
Reggie Griffin, Kroger Company
Mike Hansen, Sysco Corporation
Gene Harris, Denny’s Corporation
Frank Padilla, Costco Wholesale
Greg Reinauer, Amerifresh, Inc.
Tim York, Markon Cooperative
Here at the Pundit, we applauded the buyer-led effort but on October 30, 2006, ran a piece entitled Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question Of Buyer Commitment, in which we pointed out:
“What would be helpful from these buyers is…a reassurance to the grower/shipper/packer/processor community that investments in food safety will be protected.”
As Gene Harris of Denny’s added his endorsement to the Buyer-led Initiative for Food Safety, we published, Pundit’s Mailbag — Denny’s Weighs In On Food Safety Efforton November 1, 2006, and we pointed out that the Western Growers Association was now looking for mandatory standards:
“Buyers can impose standards on their suppliers, but it seems as if the big grower members of WGA are more inclined to go with a mandatory program. Perhaps because this is more easily “saleable” to consumers, perhaps because the growers have no confidence that buyers will ever agree to a uniform standard on food safety and, perhaps, because growers know that buyers today can have the best of intentions but situations change and buyer’s change — and if legal product is available for much less money, that will put a lot of pressure on an organization to change its standards.”
On November 2, 2006, we highlighted an Opportunity For Buyers’ Food Safety Initiative, where we wrote the following:
“Here’s the Pundit’s suggestion to the buyers: Don’t wait for the deadline to pass. Withdraw the letter to the associations, which can only lead to endless negotiations with grower/shippers and watered-down food safety standards. Instead, create a temporary ad hoc consortium to spearhead the quick development of science-based food safety standards.
In the short term, these will be enforced by buyer demand, hopefully including other buyers who will buy into the plan; in the medium run the plan will be turned over to state authorities in California and federal authorities in Washington, D.C., as the basis for new mandatory regulation.”
We pointed out that this initiative may not stay in the hands of the ad hoc group leading the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative when, on November 7, 2006, we announced: National Restaurant Association Forms Produce Safety Working Groupand pointed out:
“What we should have learned from the FDA loss of confidence in the industry is that food safety is not something that we negotiate over. It has to be driven by the best scientific knowledge we have.”
Mark Munger of Andrew-Williamson Fresh Produce, a grower/shipper, pitched in his thoughts on the important role buyers play in the food safety arena and, on November 8, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower, which specifically praised one foodservice customer:
I also have to commend one of our customers, who I believe demonstrates the value of collective partnerships between growers and customers. Two years ago we began working with Darden Restaurants. Darden takes food safety very seriously. They have empowered a food safety team that must approve each and every supplier. They have inspectors in the field who make weekly random inspections of growing operations, picking and packing programs. When problem issues are identified, they work closely with our food safety team to help educate our team and to ensure that collectively we fix the problem. The knowledge that an inspector can be in any field or packing shed at anytime has forced us to treat every day as an inspection day.
Additionally, Darden’s food safety team is separate from their buying team. If a farm is not up to par, they have the authority to stop all transactions until the problems are fixed. They truly put their money where their mouth is and have helped us become a markedly better company. I cannot think of a better example of the power of collective thinking between suppliers and customers. I think the industry would be well served to learn more about their programs and create similar models.
Not surprisingly, the Food Marketing Institute was not going to be content to sit this one out and, on November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into The Food Safety Fray, which detailed a conference scheduled for December 5th at which FMI would host representatives from industry, associations, academia and government to advance food safety issues. Unfortunately, FMI decided to exclude the media and we pointed out:
“…if the goal is to build public confidence in the process the industry is going through, you not only open it to media, you send a velvet invitation to the big consumer media groups.
It smells of smoke-filled rooms where deals will be cut in secret. If you let in some light and air, everyone will have more confidence in the final product.”
On November 14, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag: Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer Led-Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower/shipper pointed out that “This is where the retailers must step out of their ivory towers and get their walk (vendor relationship) to match their talk (aligned supply chain)… If those who signed on to this letter would get committed to buying only from “qualified suppliers,” the laws of supply and demand will drive the solution and we will quickly catch up with the rest of the world in this critical area.”
On November 17, 2006, we featured Tale Of Two Buyers, in which we pointed out: “If the VPs are sincere about wanting the buyers to place food safety first, the VPs have the responsibility for changing the culture and the economic incentive systems.”
On November 21, 2006, we published Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which features an extensive interview with Tim York of Markon Cooperative as well as the announcement that the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative gained ten new retail signatories:
- Mike O’Brien, Vice President Produce & Floral, Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, Missouri
- James Spilka, Vice President Produce, Meijer, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan
- Mark Vanderlinden, Vice President Produce Merchandising , Price Chopper, Schenectady, New York
- Greg Corrigan, Director Produce & Floral, Raley’s, West Sacramento, California
- Craig Carlson, Vice President Produce, Pathmark Stores, Carteret, New Jersey
- Don Harris, Vice President Produce & Floral, Wild Oats Markets, Boulder, Colorado
- Bryan Gannon, Director Produce & Floral, Big Y Supermarkets, Springfield, Massachusetts
- Jim Corby, Vice President, Produce Merchandising. Food Lion, Salisbury, North Carolina
- Roger Schroeder, Vice President Produce, Stater Bros., Colton, California
- Craig Ignatz, Vice President Produce Merchandising, Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Despite the impressive show of buyer support, we expressed some concern: “…it is also pretty clear that the prospect of one unified food safety standard acceptable to every one of the signatories, much less to those who have declined to sign, is somewhere between nil and nothing.”
On November 28, 2006, we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative, and in this piece we added Mark Hilton, Vice President of Produce and Floral for Harris-Teeter, based in Matthews, North Carolina, as a signatory to the letter.
We also quoted buyers who had declined to sign the letter mostly due to their objection to the public nature of the initiative. We also pointed out how vendors were thinking:
Pundit Note: Many growers and shippers are irate over the effort as they see it as an evasion of responsibility. These buying organizations get exactly what they value enough to pay for. All too often, some of the same companies who signed the letter on Monday will, on Tuesday, buy some product without the slightest knowledge of where it came from.
On November 29, 2006, we ran Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative, which gave voice to the thoughts of some non-participating buyers that only mandatory government regulation is the way to go. Also on November 29, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, in which a processor there at the beginning of the national fresh-cut industry reminded us how uninterested in food safety most retailers were at the time.
On November 30, 2006, we continued our exploration of why some buyers were declining to join the buyer-led initiative with Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives. Also on November 30, 2006, we received a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group, which we focused on in Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulation.We pointed out: “In terms of the difficulties on spinach and leafy greens, the key buyers are missing from the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. The buyers of the produce, in this case, are the processors.”
We’ve been asked to make available in one place our coverage of the recall by Wm. Bolthouse Farms of certain 100% carrot juice products and the broader implications of this issue for food safety. This piece is updated regularly and will be re-run to include new coverage of this outbreak and issue.
We initiated our coverage on October 2, 2006, by publishing the FDA notice to consumers warning them not to drink the product, and we inquired as to the margin of safety on the product. You can find the piece, entitled Oh No! Another Outbreak, right here.
On October 4, 2006, we published Bolthouse And Juice Refrigeration, which analyzed the proper standard of refrigeration for vulnerable products and the ability of both the trade and consumers to maintain that cold chain. Read it here.
October 5, 2006, we ran Botulism III, which detailed the 12 steps in the distribution chain that the industry needs functioning properly in order to maintain the cold chain. The piece challenged retailers to evaluate the integrity of their own cold chain. You can find the piece here.
In The Botulism And E. coli Connection, which we ran on October 6, 2006, we noted similarities between the botulism outbreak on certain Bolthouse carrot juice and the spinach/E. coli outbreak. The piece is right here.
On October 10, 2006, we noted, in Bolthouse Botulism Case Hits Canada, that two Canadians were now victims of this botulism case and noted that it was an unusual cluster to occur at one time if the problem was solely temperature abuse by customers. You can catch it here.
October 11, 2006, we ran Carrot Juice Still On Canadian Shelves, we noted that Canadians were getting upset over the inability of Canada’s public health authorities to execute a simple product recall and that the frequency of recalls was raising questions over the safety of California produce. Read it right here.
On October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration urging industry lobbyists to work on legislation to make sure consumers have the tools they need to keep product safe at home. The article is here.
October 18, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, disagreeing with our urging of legislation regarding thermostats and refrigeration. You can read the piece here.
The Pundit originally ran the Pundit Rewind on September 21, 2006. We continuously update it in order to keep everyone organized with respect to reference material on this subject; we have updated it with new items and run it again today.
Spinach Crisis Summary
With so much having been written in so short a time, thought it would be helpful to publish a sort of round-up of available material to help people understand the whole situation regarding spinach and this E. coli breakout:
The Perishable Pundit itself has dealt extensively with the subject in several major pieces. On September 15, 2006, we published Spinach Recall Reveals Serious Industry Problems, which addressed the implications of this crisis for the fresh-cut industry. You can read the piece here.
On September 18, 2006, we published Organic Dodges a Bullet, which deals with the implications of the outbreak for the future of organic farming. You can find this piece here. Also on September 18, 2006, we ran a piece called Ramifications and Reflections on the Spinach Recall, which provided our first 10-point analysis of the situation. You can read it here.
September 19, 2006, we asked Is FDA’s Concern Now an Obsession? — a piece in which we assessed whether a national recommendation to not eat spinach made any sense. You can review this here.
On September 20, 2006, we noted 10 Peculiarities about the E. coli Outbreak and reviewed why certain aspects of the situation are unlike past food-safety challenges and other unanswered questions regarding the outbreak. Read this one right here. Also on September 20, 2006, we did our third 10-point list, calling this one “Spinach Recall Begs for Solutions”, where we reviewed how the trade can deal with this issue for the future, including looking at the meat industry, the prospect of universal testing and the use of RFID and GTIN. You can read all this here.
On September 21, 2006, we asked Is FDA Causing Long-term Damage? Here we posed the question of whether punishing the innocent and the guilty alike doesn’t reduce incentives to invest in food safety. You can read this piece right here.
The September 25, 2006 edition of the Pundit includes our fourth 10-point list entitled Though Not ‘All-Clear’, Consumers Can Eat Spinach Again, which reviewed many issues facing the industry as spinach begins to reenter the market, including the FDA’s announcement, PMA consumer research, the behavior of industry association, battles over fresh-cuts and organics, the reintroduction of Salinas Valley production, the FDA’s capabilities, and more. You can read this piece here. Also on September 25, 2006, we reviewed The Role of Retailers And The Future Of Food Safety, which pointed out that buyers have an important role in insuring food safety. Catch this piece here.
Additionally, on September 25, 2006, we ran the Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry in which a panel of retail pundits gave us insight into the way the spinach issue played in store and with consumers. You can read it here.
The Pundit on September 26, 2006, included an articled entitled The California Department of Health Services Owes People An Explanation in which the question was raised whether certain parties received preferential treatment in the current spinach/E. coli outbreak. Read it right here. Also on September 26, 2006, we did a piece questioning the efficacy of our trace-back systems. The piece was titled More Recalls Trickle In, and you can read it here.
On September 27, 2006, the Pundit analyzed the bad publicity that the Salinas Valley has received and asked Is Salinas Getting A Bum Rap On Food Safety? The piece can be read right here.
September 28, 2006, the Pundit included a piece entitled Call For Stronger FDA that analyzed the demand of some in the food industry for beefing up the FDA and its budget within the context of the spinach/E. coli situation. You can read it here.
On September 29, 2006 we did a piece called Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics that explored the contradiction of modern life that has led things to seem less safe, even as they are actually safer. Read the piece here.
October 2, 2006 we ran The FDA Needs to Reexamine Its Methodology, inquiring why it was necessary to shut down a whole industry when, as far as we know, it was only Dole brand bagged spinach that was implicated? Read it here. Also on October 2, 2006, in a piece called Needless Recalls, we examined how even if many of the recalls were unnecessary, the recalls revealed big flaws in the trade’s traceback systems. You can find the piece here. Another piece October 2, 2006, entitled Deconstructing FDA, analyzed the FDA’s statement regarding the end of the spinach crisis. The piece is right here.
The Pundit also ran a piece entitled Action Plan to Regain Consumer Confidence that both discussed the industry plan and proposed an alternative plan. Read about it here. Also on October 2, 2006, we did a piece called Collateral Damage vs. Assumption of the Risk, which analyzed some of the liability issues surrounding the outbreak. You can find the piece here. Additionally, on October 2, 2006, we published the second in our series of Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry. This one including insight from Bob Edgell of Balls Foods and Ron McCormick of Wal-Mart, regarding reaction at retail as spinach outside California became available. Read it here.
On October 4, 2006, the Pundit ran a piece entitled In Defense of Salinas, in which, based on a discussion with a Salinas farmer, we outlined five points you need to understand about the relationship between the Salinas Valley and this outbreak. You can find it here. Also on October 4, 2006, we published Notes On Natural Selection: It Could Happen To You, which discussed the new food safety plan revealed by Natural Selection Foods and discussed the necessity of product testing. Read it here.
October 5, 2006, we analyzed the implications of the FBI raid in Salinas with Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… You can read the piece here.
We also explained on October 5, 2006, the involvement of Growers Express in the FBI raid in a piece entitled Bailando Juntos (Dancing Together), which you can find right here. What’s more, we discussed on October 5, 2006, why Canada is still banning U.S. spinach and what that implies about relations between the FDA and CFIA. The piece is called U.S. Spinach Still Banned in Canada, and you can read it here.
On October 6, 2006, the Pundit pointed out the importance of considering the human costs of our actions in A Look At The Faces, which you can read here. Also on October 6, 2006, we analyzed how increased use of a federal network was bound to mean the recording of more frequent food safety outlets in a piece entitled PulseNet Ups Ante In Food Safety Battle, which can be read right here.
Although not strictly speaking spinach-related, when one company voluntarily recalled certain green leaf lettuce, it was a decision affected by the overall environment caused by the spinach/E. coli situation. In Nunes Recall Reveals Testing Dilemma, published on October 10, 2006, we analyzed how stricter standards may lead to more frequent recalls. Catch the piece here.
October 11, 2006 we pointed out that the Center for Disease Control was beginning to see fresh-cut in a whole new light. You can read CDC’s Aha! Moment right here. Also on October 11, 2006, we offered Heads Up — Political Posturing On Spinach Begins, pointing out that the a State Senator in California was going to start some hearings. Read the piece here.
On October 12, 2006, in PulseNet Asleep At The Wheel, we detailed that the nation’s food safety bulletin board likes to take off on weekends. Read this astounding piece here.
Dangerous E. coli Found On One Ranch ran on October 13, 2006, and points out that this finding doesn’t tell us much. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Fast Testing For Pathogens Necessary, which pointed out that product testing is bound to happen and discussed options and obstacles. You can read it here.
October 18, 2006 the Pundit ran a piece in which PulseNet Explains Why It Doesn’t Work Weekends. You can find the piece here.
On October 19, 2006, the piece Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouses and Vertical Farming explores the potential of greenhouse and hydroponic growing in the light of the spinach/E. coli crisis. The article also explores the potential for vertical farms in urban neighborhoods. Read it here.
On October 24, 2006, we published Town Hall Spinach Meeting: Unanswered Questions, in which we analyzed what we learned and what was still a mystery after attending a Town Hall Meeting on the spinach crisis at the PMA Convention in San Diego. You can find this piece here.
October 27, 2006, we ran a piece entitled PMA Commits $1 Million To Food Safety Fixes and you can read it here. Also on October 27, 2006, we thought part of the fallout from the crisis would be a reexamination of the industry’s government relations efforts and so wrote PMA/United Merger Fresh On Our Minds. You can read it right here. Additionally on October 27, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Greenhouse Solutions dealing with whether Controlled Environment Agriculture might be the solution to the trade’s food safety issues. Read it right here.
On October 30, 2006, we responded to a very important proposal from several leading members of the buying community with Buyer-Led Food Safety Effort Leaves Open Question of Buyer Commitment. You can read the piece here. After the government announced that it was looking at wild pigs as the culprit in the E. coli contamination, we ran, on October 30, 2006, a piece entitled Now We Know Why Spinach Salad Is Served With Bacon Dressing. Read it right here.
On October 31, 2006, we published Western Growers Association Calls For Mandatory Food Safety Standards, in which we discussed the epochal change taking place as the industry looked to move to mandatory, as opposed to voluntary, food safety standards. You can read it right here.
November 2, 2006, we published Opportunity For Buyer’s Food Safety Initiative, which raised the idea that not involving growers in setting food safety standards was a good idea. Read it here.
On November 7, 2006, we ran a piece entitled NRA Forms Produce Safety Working Group that discussed a new National Restaurant Association initiative to impose standards on suppliers to foodservice. You can find the piece here. Also on November 7, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — United’s President/CEO Responds (Part 2), which dealt with the question of how much difference a good government relations program can be expected to accomplish at a time of crisis. Read it here.
November 8, 2006, we ran a valuable Pundit’s Mailbag — Insights From A Conscientious Grower that focused on the value buyers can bring to food safety programs. You can read it here.
On November 10, 2006, we published FMI Steps Into Food Safety Fray, which details the role a food safety conference FMI is organizing might play in helping the industry develop new food safety protocols. You can find the piece here.
November 14, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Grower/Shipper Calls Buyer-Led Food Safety Initiative Hollow Call To Action, in which a respected grower pointed out that growers needed retailers to walk the walk not talk the talk. Read it here.
On November 15, 2006 we published PulseNet, And The Pundit, In The News, which linked to a TV station that picked up on our reporting on ways to improve PulseNet. Read it here. Also on November 15, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse Of The Industry: Westborn Markets, Schnucks, Wal-Mart, in which these retailers updated us on how the market for spinach and bagged salads is recovering. You can find the piece here.
November 16, 2006, we had a piece entitled Pundit’s Mailbag — Kill Steps And Irradiation that dealt with the industry concern that no matter how we strengthen our agricultural practices, only a “kill step” can really solve the problem. Read it here.
On November 17, 2006, we published GAPs/GMPs And HACCP Plans, in which United Fresh President/CEO Tom Stenzel gives his take on what happened during the spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 17, 2006, we ran Tale Of Two Buyers, which pointed out that culture and compensation may matter more than intent when it comes to food safety. Find it right here.
November 21, 2006, we ran Tim York Takes Leadership Role In Food Safety Crisis, which updated us on the progress of the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. Read it here.
On November 22, 2006 we presented The Perishable Pundit’s Unsung Heroes Award to Hank Giclas of Western Growers Association, David Gombas and Jim Gorny, both of United Fresh Produce Association. Read all about it right here. Also on November 22, 2006 we reported the explosive news that the whole consumer advisory not to eat spinach might have been avoided had certain processors cooperated with the FDA. The piece is called Spinach Farmers Won’t Be Thanking Certain Processors This Holiday and you can read it here. Additionally, on November 22, 2006 we explained that restricting product usage could reduce the impact of future outbreaks. The article is called If You Are Eating Out For Thanksgiving… and you can find it here.
November 28, 2006 we published Words From Buyers Who Did Not Sign The Food Safety Initiative that explained one objection to the way the initiative was being handled. Read the piece here. Also on November 28, 2006, we wrote Don’t Forget The Regional Spinach Processors, which showed how Aunt Mid’s Produce Company in Detroit, Michigan, was communicating with its customers. Catch it here.
On November 29, 2006, we ran a piece called Another Naysayer of Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative that focused on the thoughts of some buyers that only mandatory government regulation would help the industry. Read it right here.
On November 30, 2006, we published Self-Interests Play Role In Food Safety Initiatives, a piece that continued our series on why some buyers don’t wish to sign on to the Buyer-led Food Safety Initiative. You can find the article here.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE CRISIS
In addition, the Pundit has done several smaller pieces that touched on various aspects of this crisis. On September 18, 2006, we raised the issue of whether food safety outbreaks such as this raise long-term issues about the viability of cartoon character tie-ins in Who Has Marketing Fortitude? You can read about it here. Also on September 18, 2006, we wrote Fit To Be Tied, which dealt with the way some companies have little sense of decency when it comes to marketing their products in the midst of a crisis. You can read this one right here.
Additionally on September 18, 2006, our Pundit’s Mailbag focused on letters received by United President/CEO Tom Stenzel and incoming Chairman Emanuel Lazopoulos of Del Monte Fresh, which dealt with the confluence of United’s Board Meeting and the spinach crisis as well as issues of industry leadership. You can find this one here.
On September 19, 2006, we noted that there might be a Greenhouse Opportunity in all this. Read this here. Also on September 19, 2006, we noted that, though fruits and vegetables are healthy, fresh produce is not necessarily the best choice for those with a compromised immune system. The piece is called Marketing Nightmare and you can find it right here.
On September 21, 2006, we did a piece called Wal-Mart Deli/Bakery Has Crisis Of Its Own that draws a link between the difficulty of preventing a Salmonella outbreak at one store with the difficulty of preventing an E. coli outbreak on an industry-wide basis. You can read this piece here.
On September 25, 2006, the Pundit noted Another Oddity In Spinach Crisis and raised the question whether some or all of the product being marketed as conventional might not be organic. Read it right here. Also on September 25, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag which dealt both with the utility of loyalty card programs and with the nature of large, multi-line fresh-cut packing facilities. You can read this one right here. Also we did a short piece on what change was actually necessary if consumers were to be reassured of the safety of spinach. Read it here.
On September 26, 2006, we discussed the issue of recalls and how insurance plays into that. You can read this here. Also had an unrelated piece on Wegmans that included a video clip on how consumer media is dealing with the reintroduction of spinach. You can catch it here.
Additionally on September 26, 2006, we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the causes of the outbreak. You can read this piece here.
September 27, 2006, we focused on a piece in the Washington Post that helps us in Putting Things In Perspective. How does the Spinach/E. coli outbreak relate to the total numbers that get sick and die each year from foodborne illness? You can read it right here.
On September 28, 2006, we published a terrific Pundit’s Mailbag exploring the frustration the buy side felt in dealing with the spinach/E. coli situation. Read it here.
October 2, 2006, we had some Questions For Western Growers that asked how far the WGA was willing to go to make sure foreign growers meet the same standards as Salinas area farmers. Read about it here. We also asked How Committed Is The Produce Industry To Broad/National Food Safety Program. You can read the piece here.
In addition, on October 2, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: Another Despicable Marketing Attempt that pointed out how a seed company was taking advantage of the situation and, possibly, leading to harm, by pushing its products. Read about it here.
On October 4, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Primary And Secondary Suppliers, which details how this food safety crisis has to impact retail vendor selection. Catch it right here. Also on October 4, 2006, we discussed how to help innocent spinach farmers who were victimized by this crisis in Everyone Needs to Do A Little Bit. The Pundit pledged to do its own bit. Read it right here.
October 5, 2006, we ran a piece focused on another outbreak of foodborne illness — in this case, botulism in carrot juice. The focus, however, was on the necessity to change attitudes as the produce industry becomes less a packing industry and more a processing industry. It is called Botulism III, and you can read it here.
On October 6, 2006 we pointed out The Botulism And E. coli Connection where we explained that our focus on pathogens at the product source, though important, is insufficient. Read it here. Also on October 6, 2006 we ran Pundit’s Mailbag: What Are The feds Up To? This answered a reader’s letter inquiring as to whether the FBI being in Salinas implied industry members weren’t cooperating. You can find this item here.
Food Safety, Good Delivery And Temperature Monitoring was published on October 10, 2006, and pointed out that old temperature recording devices have to be superseded by new temperature monitoring technology on all trucking of vulnerable products. Catch the piece here.
On October 11, 2006, we ran a piece that grew out of the decision of Publix to stop giving some perishables away because of food safety concerns it is called Culture of Risk-Aversion Hurts the Poor and you can read it here.
Nunes Tests Negative on October 13, 2006, raises the question of the appropriateness of recalls for generic E. coli in irrigation water. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006, we ran Lobbying For Better Refrigeration, which pointed out that consumers are not given the tools needed to be vigilant at home. Find it here.
In addition on October 13, 2006, we published PulseNet Redux pointing out, once again, that this outbreak could have been caught earlier had the government not taken off for the weekend. Read it here. Also on October 13, 2006 we ran a Pundit’s Mailbag — Population Inured by Recalls? This piece raised the possibility that frequent recalls, with no subsequent illness, would rebound to the benefit of the trade. Please read it here.
On October 17, 2006, we ran Will Hydroponics Be A Solution To Spinach Woes? and analyzed the potential of hydroponics to head off future outbreaks. Read it here.
October 18, 2006, we had a Pundit’s Mailbag — Thermometers In Refrigerators, in which the Pundit was challenged for urging excessive governmental interference. You can find it right here.
October 20, 2006, we had two pieces related to the Nunes recall on Green Leaf lettuce. First, in a piece entitled Closure For Nunes, we detailed that the product had been declared clean by the FDA. You can read it here. Second, we had a piece entitled Partial Closure In Mexico, which explained that Mexico had decided to allow the import of U.S. lettuce but not spinach. You can find the piece right here.
On November 1, 2006, we ran a piece entitled Canada Opens Door To More, But Not All, US Spinach. You can read it right here. Also on November 1, 2006, we had an interesting Pundit’s Mailbag — The Acceptance Of Risk, which included a fascinating comparison on how the FAA views safety in airlines as opposed to the FDA looking at food. Read it here.
November 3, 2006, we published Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t, which dealt with the way enhanced detection technology is likely to increase reports of foodborne illness — even as the food supply gets safer. Read it here. Also on November 3, 2006 we ran a brief note entitled Broader Concern For Food Safety, which linked to an FDA-produced slide show on the spinach outbreak as part of a broader food safety perspective. You can catch it right here.
Additionally on November 3, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — CPMA’s President Sets The Record Straight, in which CPMA’s President Dan Dempster addressed the importance of communication between the public health authorities in the U.S. and in Canada. Find the piece right here.
On November 7, 2006, we ran FDA Focuses On Retail And Foodservice Food Safety which gave news of an FDA satellite broadcast for retailers and foodservice operators and addressed the general issue of buyers and food safety. Read it here. Also on November 7, 2006, we ran an Erratum correcting some calculations in our previous piece Food Safety And Why The Problem Will Only Get Worse…Or Won’t. You can find it right here.
November 9, 2006, we published Pundit’s Pulse of the Industry: Bigg’s Marvin Lyons, the first of a series of retail interviews looking at how sales at retail are going post-spinach crisis. Read it here. Also on November 9, 2006, we ran Pundit’s Mailbag — Sticking Up for the Pundit, in which an industry leader wrote in to support the work of the Pundit. You can find the piece here.
On November 10, 2006, we highlighted a quick directory of Farm-to-Fork Food Safety Resources. Catch it here.
November 21, 2006 we ran Capitol Report: United Helps Coordinate ‘Spinach Fest’ which focused on an event in D.C. reintroducing spinach to consumers. Read it here. Also on November 21, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Woeful Costco Experience, which detailed the difficulty of getting accurate information down to store level personnel. You can find the piece here.
On November 22, 2006 we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Thankfulness in which Harris Cutler of Race-West Company offered a common sense perspective on food safety. Read it here.
November 29, 2006 featured Pundit’s Mailbag — Buyers Lecturing Again, which reminded us that retailers weren’t always focused on consumers or safety in the early years of the national fresh-cut industry. You can find the piece right here.
On November 30, 2006, we published What’s In A Name, recognizing the birth date of Theodor Escherich, for whom the genus Escherichia of which Escherichia coli is the most common member. Read it here. Also on November 30, 2006, we published Pundit’s Mailbag — Pundit Logic On Food Safety Regulations, which dealt with a letter from Al Zuckerman of ProMark Group trying to find a reasonable proposal on food safety. Catch it here.
Several additional pieces appear in the Perishable Pundit today, and they will be incorporated into future iterations of this Spinach Crisis Summary.
In addition to our own work, there are many excellent sources of information out there that do not require payment, membership or registration. Three of the Pundit’s favorites:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has offered daily information on the crisis right here.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention deal with the outbreak here.
The Produce Marketing Association has maintained an excellent industry resource on the subject right here.
Please feel free to write or call if you are looking for specific information not included here. Note that many of the articles and websites have links to other resources.